Merced to Santa Fe
Following a blistering summer in the Central Valley of California, the lingering heat and smoke filled air made the September transition into fall something of a repeat of the previous four years when fires ravaged the state. To any heat, fire, pandemic, and drought weary Californios, a late September departure seemed like a good time to mask up and head east for a little relief from high temperatures, smokey air, and parched landscapes. At least vaccinations made travel somewhat safer. So, what better destination to ride to than the desert in the direction that prevailing winds travel! Duh…
The cast of characters for this adventure included Pete and Andy, familiar faces from previous trips. Sadly, as life wants to do, events unfolded such that elderly parents needed attention and Andy, good son that he is, had to bow out. Likewise there were issues with my mother-in-law, but my wife and her sisters were able to care for her and with Toni’s blessings, I was given the green light.
Day 1: Tonopah Bound
Pete and I met on Sunday morning, September 26, at our usual meeting place, the Chevron station on the corner of Yosemite Ave. and “G” Street in Merced. Our route was to take back roads to CA-120 crossing the Sierra over Tioga Pass on to Tonopah, NV. Road repairs and the closure of any services minimized the crowds one might expect to find at the end of the summer in Tuolumne Meadows. Though not evident in the photo, the air was less than pristine with smoke from the Caldor and KNP Complex fires casting a pall over the foothills up to and over Tioga Pass. In fact landscapes of our entire ride east of the Sierra, nearly all the way into Utah, were obscured by smoke.
At the Benton Junction we pulled into the Benton Station where we met David who was traveling on a 2002 BMW GS in search of gas which apparently the Benton Station was fresh out of… Benton may have been out of gas, but bees were aplenty as we approached the California Agricultural Inspection Station just a few miles east Benton on US-6. The bees suffered far greater casualties than the three of us motorcyclists. Full face shields, windscreens, armored textile clothing, gloves and hand guards provide multiple safety functions on a motorcycle. Far greater than sunglasses, fingerless gloves, and lycra on a bicycle, our other favored two-wheel transportation…
David was traveling from Utah, heading home seemingly uninformed about services in these remote locales, and so we reassuringly accompanied him some 70 miles on US 6/95 in the direction of Tonopah, the next closest fuel on his homeward bound leg before parting company with a so-long wave at Miller’s Rest Stop, a little oasis in the basin and range landscape of rural western Nevada about 12 miles west of Tonopah. Last year we met Tim on his Goldwing, from Sacramento, who offered and egg salad sandwich and cool beverage. There’s more than the wave that bond motorcyclists.
Arriving out our motel we dropped our gear and busied ourselves with locating beverages and food.
We met a fellow moto traveler at our motel, Robert from Bellingham, WA, who was heading home from touring Cedar Breaks, Bryce Canyon, the Escalante, and Zion National Parks. It appeared that Pete, Robert, and I were the only non-working-stiff types staying at the National 9 Inn.
Later, out of curiosity, we asked the desk clerk about the nature of the residents of the motel since we three on motorcycles appeared to be the only tourists. He said they were mostly workers from nearby mines. These miners apparently have differences with the implementation of the Biden administration’s environmental policies reversing those of the “environmental legacy” of former president Trump. His move to restore Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments in Utah to their original boundaries I’m sure was met with mixed reactions by locals. Thus as non-locals we were left to contemplate the state of affairs in Tonopah as the relaxation, rehydration, and reflection hour arrived.
Day 2 Tonopah to Cedar City
We met one of those miners the next morning, Jerry from New Mexico who had a turquoise mine near Tonopah.
After a satisfying breakfast at the Tonopah Station I was reminded of the Tour de Basin Grande in 1993 where after pedalling a bike 75 miles across basin and range mile after mile of nothing but mile after mile, stopping only for emergencies, the food at Tonopah Station wasn’t nearly as satisfying. Everything was fried, including the salads which would later prompt an emergency stop.
It was on to NV-375 from US-6 to Rachel on the Extraterrestrial Highway.
After a brief stop for a cool beverage, we stretched abit walking about the premises of the Little A’Li’Inn and noticed a message taped to the passenger window of a delivery truck.
With that, we forged on slightly amused, a bit confused by the syntax, but grateful for the forewarning.
Passing-up the Alien Research Center this trip, heeding the line from the message taped to the window of the delivery truck at the Little A’Li’Inn, “Outer space is fake,” we entered US-93, The Great Basin Highway through Crystal Springs, Caliente, Beaver Dam, and Bennett Springs to Panaca and CA-319 where at the Nevada/Utah border CA-319 becomes UT-56 through Modena, Beryl Junction, and Newcastle climbing up and up to Cedar City, our day two destination just in time as the weather was beginning to change as we departed arid Nevada for Utah at elevation.
It was much cooler with clouds gathering. Could this be a sign? We had “ears to hear” but hunger to sate so it was off in search of victuals since the rain would likely douse the fire prophesied by the Little A’Li’Inn delivery truck prophet.
Little did we know that yet another omen would be realized. After alerting the desk at our Super 8 motel that their dumpster was fully engulfed in flames, hungry and willing to disregard the ominous delivery truck message, we solicited the recommendation of a friendly river guide, who had just returned from taking USU students on Green River float, for where we might find a satisfying evening meal.
Given the guide’s directions and Google Maps, we strolled along a very busy UT-56 for about a mile and arrived at the Centro Pizzaria near the downtown of Cedar City. After being forced inside from dining alfresco as winds preceding what would later be an awesome thunderstorm nearly sent the umbrellas at tables into the Mary Poppins stratosphere, Pete and I savored delicious woodfired pizzas.
Choosing to avoid the busy highway back to our hotel, we delighted in the few raindrops preceding what the radar was showing as gully washer heading our way. Strolling through the Southern Utah University campus reminded me of my carefree youthful days at my alma mater in Chico, only now as a carefree retired geezer. By the time we arrived at our hotel, the dumpster fire had been extinguished. The evening thundershower was gathering and beginning to resound. As the relaxation, rehydration and reflection hour arrived, our nightcaps left us feeling confident that we were not about to go out in that weather to start a riot.
Day 3: Cedar City to Green River
Perhaps you’ve notice the sub-heading identifies our third day destination as Green River, however the maps link indicates Moab. The plan was to take UT-14 out of Cedar City to US-89, then UT-12 to Torrey by way of Bryce where we saw our first eye-feast of fall color and began riding through then next several days of intermittent rain.
Then it was on to Cannonville, Tropic, Henrieville, Escalante, and Boulder where last Spring we toured the Burr Trail. Thankfully the twisty roads were dry and relatively free of traffic.
In Boulder a piece of apple and peach pie with coffee satisfied our midday hunger pangs at the Burr Trail Cafe where a couple of Ducatis joined the Versys and V-Strom. Next a snack in Hanksville then on to Green River for the night as threatening skies shortened our goal of reaching Moab.
With weather threatening we deferred camping in Moab, another hour or so away, for a motel in Green River. Our stay was at the Sleepy Hollow Motel. Buurrguurrs at Ray’s and with Ducatis on his mind Pete insisted that I consider getting a Ducati Multistrada. I am fine with people mistaking my Kawasexy Versys as a Multistrada. Besides, as we all know, Japanese bikes are reliable.
After Ray’s we procured Utah’s very own, Uinta Golden Spike for the relaxation, rehydration, and reflection hour that would soon take place on the stoop of our room as once again, clouds gathered and raindrops began to fall. Pete reflected on staying at the very same motel some two decades earlier. Interestingly, the housekeeper who we met the following morning at the Sleepy Hollow was the very same woman who worked there when Pete, two decades earlier, awakened to a dead battery on his Kawasaki Z900. Pete recalled that her husband assisted him in jumpstarting the bike. A battery failure doesn’t qualify as an “unreliability”.
There were no dead batteries upon awakening the next morning, but it had rained and more rain was in the forecast.
Day 4: Green River (Moab) to Chama
The next day took us through Moab and fortunately, the rain of the night before had moved east and the earlier forecasted showers arrived later that afternoon. It was here we had our first sighting of the mighty Colorado River having crossed the mighty Green River earlier. Well, historically mighty. Drought has rendered most of the west’s mighty rivers turbid. Mt Tukuhnikivatz to the east, however, was crowned with a late September dusting of snow. The precip was welcomed despite having to ride later in the day through showers on two wheels, thankful for this morning respite.
Moab was crowded with millennials and hipsters in Subarus and Sprinters and white-heads in Winnebagos and Airstreams. Edward Abbey would be turning cartwheels in his grave seeing the conga line to get into the Arches National Park, so it was south on US-191 to Monticello where we would take US-491 to Cortez now in our third state, Colorado, where we joined US-160 to Durango and Pagosa Springs all in the rain. From there it was a soggy US-84 through Chromo, and US-64 to Chama now in our fourth state, New Mexico, for another wet night.
I had read about the Y Motel in Chama on a moto-friendly website. It’s named for the three-way intersection of US-64, UA-84, NM-17 forming a Y. It seemed to meet our criteria for selecting lodging in rural areas, namely a motor court, preferably from a bygone era, and cheap. Besides, every other room was booked in Chama as deer and bear hunting season was set to begin the next day. After waiting for David, a Continental Divide Trail hiker https://glideonblog.wordpress.com/ and dead ringer for John Muir, to register and after some negotiating with Sam samschild.com, both of whom had retreated from trail because of the sudden snowfall, we secured a room.
Mike the motel’s clerk was an entertaining, you might say, eccentric chap. He seemed to be delighted to serve equally entertaining and eccentric guests. He explained how the motel was under new ownership which explained why all of the boxes of items intended for renovations were stacked in the motel office. He implied that as long as they remained in the boxes in the “lobby” he wasn’t responsible for their unpacking or installation. He also noted that Pete and I were worthy of the motel’s reputation among Continental Divide Trail hikers. It seemed some fellows on Harley Davidsons declined staying at the motel as there was no covered parking for their machines. Like parking under a cover somehow mitigates riding through the rain? They ended up riding to Pagosa Springs. In the rain.
When we were given the key, yes, an actual key and not a card, we entered the room. Spartan to describe the room would be generous. Rigorously simple, frugal, or austere comes to mind. There was no soap, two outlets, surprisingly a TV, and towels that might charitably be called handkerchiefs. Better yet described, primitive. Maybe. Rustic for sure. Actually, it was a dump. It’s amazing how the relaxation, rehydration, and reflection hour can allow for one to adjust one’s expectations, and like Brian, look on the bright side of life. Like our hiker friends, at least we all weren’t freezing outdoors in a soggy tent as the deer and bear hunters enjoyed all of the remaining cozy accommodations in town.
The next day, we bid adieu… Sam and Mike, Pete and Tom. Adios boys!
Day 5 Chama to Santa Fe
We were anxious to reach our Santa Fe halfway “Abbey’s Other Road Trip” destination at the Delaware’s, Bob and Suzanne, with the promise of fair weather on the more direct route from Chama to Santa Fe on US-84/285. We passed through Tierra Amarilla where, because of the threat of yet another day of cold wet pavement heading up into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, we decided to skip US-64 to Taos. So, onward through Cibola, Canjilon, Abiquiu, Espanola, stopping in Pojoaque tipping our helmets to the Camel and fueling up while alerting Bob and Suzanne of our impending early arrival.
We wasted not a minute before launching into Bob’s personal tour of his new hometown. Well, reclaimed hometown. His lovely wife Suzanne is a native New Mexican (Albuquerque) and both she and Bob attended the University of New Mexico. After a wonderful career in education in California and a brief “retirement” in Ballard, WA, they’ve settled into the ristra lifestyle in a beautiful setting in enchanting Santa Fe. A quick romp around the plaza found us enjoying an early, albeit brief, relaxation, rest, and reflection half-hour warmup as I reflected on the public statuary saluting my ACD SoBe.
Next up was the el Rey, a classic motor court “motel” built along side of the original Mother Road, Rt-66 opening its doors in 1936 and now an iconic “boho” inn (whatever that means) where my lovely wife and I spent the night on one of our southwestern honeymoon stops some 27 years earlier. No need for a calculator, 1994. I remembered our suite. Okay, it was room.
As the cocktail hour approached, we hightailed it back to La Hacienda de Delaware where Suzanne had prepared a delightfully savory Classic New Mexican Green Chili Stew. The recipe was from her mother’s Classic New Mexican Recipes. The remainder of the evening was devoted to relaxation, rehydration, and reflection and enchanting conversation. We were, after all, in the land of enchantment…
Day 6 Santa Fe Layover
The next day we arose to yet more inclement weather. That wasn’t going to deter Bob from chauffeuring us along the the High Road to Taos, a most scenic byway. We enjoyed this authentic remnant of Old Spain, still evident in the religion, architecture, topography, history, and people along the real. The byway travels through Chimayo, a community known for the beautiful Santuario de Chimayo, a national historic landmark, and the El Posito, a hole in the floor of a side chapel filled with healing earth. Along NM-76, the byway follows the terrain; the creased and wrinkled badlands populated with scrubby pinon and juniper, with the Jemez Mountains enormous on the horizon if it wasn’t for the clouds.
Nestled in the village of Chimayo along the High Road to Taos sits a national historic landmark, El Santuario de Chimayo. Every Good Friday, tens of thousands of pilgrims make their way to this “Lourdes of the Southwest.”
Next up was the San José de Gracia Church in the village of Las Trampas. First settled by 12 Spanish families in 1751, the village of Las Trampas was originally built within a defensive wall with low buildings packed around a central plaza. The tight-knit traditional community flourished for hundreds of years, developing and retaining a culture little influenced by the outside world. Within the village is the San José de Gracia Church, one of the most-original and best-preserved examples of Spanish Colonial architecture in New Mexico.
It was then on to the bridge across Rio Grande Gorge next where it’s not for the faint of heart to peer over the rail some 600 feet to the river below. It was a tad unnerving to feel the bridge vibrate with the passing vehicles, especially the tractor-trailer rigs.
After a walkabout in Taos to visit another stop on the Honeymoon Tour at the Taos Inn we made our way to Ranchos de Taos and the San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church.
Completed in 1816, the San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church is a large, sculpted Spanish Colonial church with massive adobe buttresses and two front-facing bell towers. Because of its imposing form and sculpted body, the church is a favorite subject for artists. Ansel Adams photographed the church for his Taos Pueblo art book and Georgia O’Keeffe painted a series of perspectives of the church. O’Keeffe once described it as “one of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the early Spaniards.” In most works, these artists favored the view of the back of the church, with its smoothly sculpted adobe beehive buttresses. The beautiful colonial-era church continues to attract artists and the Ranchos de Taos plaza is home to several galleries.
The afternoon found us making our way back to the Delaware Hacienda along NM-68 and the Rio Grande but not before spying Camel Rock.
The next morning we would begin our return leg home having enjoyed the generous hospitality of our hosts, Bob and Suzanne. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t photograph Suzanne during our stay. So, I stole one from FB.
Stay tuned for Part 2: Homeward Bound, Santa Fe to Merced!